afrol News, 15 May - In a meeting of the European Union's Foreign Ministers yesterday in Brussels, first steps were take to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe "if progress has been insufficient" when the EU is to review the human rights situation in Zimbabwe in June.
The badly disguised threat to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe was found in a statement produced by the EU Council after its meeting yesterday. The Council had discussed a series of African affairs, and its reference to Zimbabwe was only short, but concise.
The entire reference to Zimbabwe reads as follows: "The Council expressed its deep concern over recent developments in Zimbabwe, in particular the increased occurrence of unacceptable acts of political violence and intimidation. It recalled its commitment to pursue a constructive dialogue with the government and expressed its firm wish for this dialogue to yield rapid and tangible results. It agreed that it would review developments in June, with a view to considering appropriate measures if progress has been insufficient."
Although the word "sanctions" is not used, the clear reference to consider "appropriate measures" and the setting of a date clearly points to the possible use of sanctions. According to press reports from the meeting, the ministers had said sanctions would be an option unless the Zimbabwean government engaged in a "constructive dialogue about human rights".
The EU and Zimbabwe began their so-called "political dialogue" over human rights when President Mugabe visited the European Commission at the beginning of March.
Under Article 8 of the Cotonou Agreement, which governs trade and aid relations between the EU and 77 African, Pacific and Caribbean (ACP) countries, the EU can suspend aid to a 'partner country' three months after political dialogue has begun, if Brussels sees no progress on issues of concern.
EU aid to Zimbabwe currently amounts to about 10 million euros (9.2 million US dollars) a year, with most of that support going to the health sector. Within the Cotonou Agreement, Zimbabwe also enjoys easy export access to EU markets.
Several European countries have already frozen all or parts of their cooperation with Zimbabwe. The Scandinavian countries Sweden, Denmark and Norway, previously principal donors and partners, have frozen all cooperation. The former colonial power Britain is also lobbying for tougher EU and Commonwealth action against Zimbabwe.
Danish frustrations grew this weekend, as the Danish chewing gum company Dandy had been forced to close down after so-called "war vets" had occupied their factory, according to Portuguese radio RDP. Danish Development Minister Anita Bay has protested the lawlessness applauded by the Zimbabwean government.
If the EU in June finds that "progress has been insufficient", pressure is expected to be hard to impose sanctions. With Britain, which under normal circumstances should have been Zimbabwe's supporter in the EU Council, opposing the Harare government, little support is to be expected. Members of the European Parliament's Development Committee have stated that Mugabe's Zimbabwe should be treated as an international pariah. The parliamentarian Committee has put pressure on the EU Council to impose sanctions.
Also the United States Congress began deliberations on possible sanctions against Zimbabwe in March. Bilateral assistance from Washington and debt reduction programmes for Zimbabwe has already been cut back. On Sunday, even Canada announced that it was suspending new development aid to Zimbabwe after its ambassador had been harassed by "war vets" at the offices of the Canadian aid agency, CARE.
From within Zimbabwe, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is lobbying for targeted sanctions against the government of President Robert Mugabe, as it maintains, "There's no point imposing general sanctions as Mugabe doesn't care about the economy." The MDC proposes sanctions that target the political leadership and their assets abroad, not the Zimbabwean population at large.